If attention is currency, former president Donald Trump is going broke.
Trump has largely lost his status as one of the nation’s top newsmakers since leaving office and being deplatformed by the major social media platforms, according to a new analysis, raising questions about whether the former president will be able to maintain his stranglehold over the public conversation — the stranglehold that propelled him to victory in 2016 — as he eyes a potential 2024 bid.
Trump’s media attention has been so lacking, in fact, that he has broken the bottom of SocialFlow’s Trump Index — a scale that measures social media engagements on stories pertaining to Trump on a 100 to zero scale, with “100” measuring peak attention. The scale is calibrated so that a 50 represents the score Trump received during an average day during his final year in office.
SocialFlow, a company that publishes content to social media platforms for more than 300 media outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post, found that while Trump hit “100” on the scale on the day after the Capitol riot, he has notched a score of less than one on many days since leaving office.
The analysis comes as the question of how Trump will wield his influence looms heavy over U.S. politics, especially in the Republican party. While some Republicans, like Representative Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), have pushed to leave Trump behind, others have remained more loyal to the former president. Representative Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas) argued last month that the party can’t “excommunicate” the former president.
“Certainly attention is currency in the world of politics and right now [Trump] doesn’t have nearly as much attention as he’s used to,” SocialFlow CEO Jim Anderson said in a recent interview with National Review. “He’s gonna have to find a way to recapture that ability to not just tweet … but to get his message out on some platform.”
Anderson said that while it was expected that Trump’s numbers would drop to some extent — former presidents don’t typically enjoy the same attention as they did while in office — it has been surprising just how low the readings have been.
“I’m not sure anybody expected it to drop down below one on a scale of zero to 100,” he said. “It was a mess. We had to redefine the bottom end of the index.”
However, Trump’s drop in attention since leaving office has been compounded by the loss of his greatest megaphones: his social media accounts. Shortly after the Capitol riot in January, Trump was banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Twitter permanently suspended Trump from its platform in January, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.” Meanwhile, Facebook announced on Friday that it will suspend Trump until at least January 2023.
As Trump’s tweets largely drove the news of the day for the better part of four years, he has struggled to find such an effective way to hold the public’s attention since his deplatforming. He launched a blog, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” to communicate with supporters but it was shuttered this week just 29 days after it was first published. It reportedly received very little engagement online.
Meanwhile, clicks to Trump stories plummeted 81 percent from January to February, another 56 percent from February to March and 40 percent from March to April, according to SocialFlow.
The removal of Trump’s blog, a ruling on Trump’s account status by the Facebook Oversight Board, and the GOP drama surrounding Cheney’s ouster from her Republican leadership role all served as recent news events that drove a spike in Trump’s media attention. However, none caused a remarkable surge in attention or a sustained wave of attention, data from SocialFlow show.
The highest rating Trump has reached on SocialFlow’s index in the past three months was a 32 on May 13 — the day after Cheney was removed from her role as House Republican Conference chair over her repeated criticisms of the former president. Trump’s index rating dropped down to a 14 the next day and a six the day after that.
Anderson says it is a “chicken or the egg” question to try to deconstruct whether the media is writing fewer stories about Trump because people are less interested or if people are less interested because there is less reporting.
“I think it’s both to some degree,” he said, adding that January’s chaotic news cycle that surrounded Trump’s final days in office likely left many readers — and reporters — with a high level of fatigue.”
Even once Trump returns to Facebook, it remains to be seen if he will be able to “control the narrative and get the media coverage that he was before,” Anderson said.
“It may be the media is just as fatigued as consumers,” he added. “And there were certainly lots of criticism of the media from both left and right about how they chose to cover President Trump and politics more broadly.”
He continued: “We’ll have to see it’s entirely possible but the media is in a very different place so that when we come up with the 2024 presidential election, you may very well find that the media coverage your behaves quite differently, and he may or may not be able to recapture that.”
While Trump has floated the idea of launching his own social media platform, Anderson notes that the former president may ultimately be forced to choose between money and attention; Trump is reportedly asking for a large payment upfront from any social platform he partners with in exchange for the followers he would likely bring to the new social network.
A payout to Trump would likely leave any eventual social platform that partners with him with less money to put toward product development and marketing.
“It’s an important choice for him,” he said. “It obviously has financial implications to him if he’s paid to go to a platform, but it’s also got significant implications in terms of how successful he’s likely to be — all platforms are not created equal.”
“Freedom of speech is not the same thing as freedom of reach,” Anderson added. “He can say and put up on his own site whatever he wants to say. But, that doesn’t mean that a social platform is obligated to carry it and it certainly doesn’t mean that the media is obligated to report on it.”